After four decades of fear and paranoia at the sight of a badge, it’s difficult to imagine a world in which the boys and girls in blue can be allies of the legalization movement. Many still fall firmly on the side of devoted drug warriors like Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But for those of us who refuse to spit in the face of facts, it’s worth noting that not all cops believe in prohibition. While they may not openly promote recreational drug use, here are just a few reasons why many cops want to legalize recreational marijuana.
1. Cops want to legalize recreational marijuana because it limits access.
It goes without saying that a legal market would be regulated and that regulation will come with limits on who can buy cannabis – namely those who are underage. After all, anyone who’s ever been to a liquor store with a fake ID knows it’s way easier to buy weed as a minor. Naturally, this is something police would rather not worry about. If the store clerk is stopping minors from buying the product, it frees officers up to deal with other crimes.
As for those who argue that a legal market would encourage more people to spark up, the history of cigarettes proves that anti-use campaigns are far more effective when the substance is out in the open.
“You ask cigarette smokers today if they feel condoned, and they’ll tell you ‘no’ they feel barely tolerated by the rest of society.” says retired police captain and co-founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) Peter Christ, “We have gotten 50 percent of adult cigarette smokers to quit smoking in the last 10 years without banning one cigarette.”
2. Legalization saves money.
If the war on drugs has been good for anything it’s burning huge heaps of cash. According to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), federal and state governments have spent over $1 trillion to fight a losing war for more than 40 years.
By contrast, Washington state has saved money since it legalized recreational weed. Before legalization, a single cannabis arrest could cost the state up to $2000 in legal fees. The DPA found that between 2000 and 2010 Washington state spent more than $200 million trying to crack down on cannabis. This wasted money and wasted time are some of the most important reasons why cops want to legalize recreational marijuana.
Scarce funding is something which plagues many departments around the country and its forced some to get creative with their money. Unfortunately, that creativity has resulted in abuses of power in the form of civil forfeiture cases in which officers can cease an individual’s property without charging them with a crime. According to the non-profit Institute for Justice, forfeiture is often used to supplement police budgets since departments get to keep what they cease.
3. Legalization stops shady cops
Among the worst effects prohibition has had on law enforcement is the incentives it provides for shady behavior. Corrupt practices often follow programs like the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant which offers funding for departments to establish anti-drug task forces.
According to the DPA, “These task forces are at the center of numerous scandals involving falsified government records, witness tampering, fabricated evidence, false imprisonment, stolen property, large-scale racial profiling and sexual abuse.”
A report from the Brennan Center for Justice confirms that pattern. It found that federal funding of this kind changes the behavior of police and prosecutors. In 2011 a former NYPD narcotics detective named Stephen Anderson testified before a New York court that officers routinely planted drugs on innocent individuals in order to meet quotas.
What’s worse, in some states those quotas are kept in check by contracts with private prisons. A 2013 report from the research firm In the Public Interest, found that the majority of these contracts require that the prisons remain 80 to 100 percent full or the state can face penalties.
4. Legalization means harm reduction
Often the only tool at the disposal of police officers is the ability to make sure that drug offenders are punished for breaking the law. Yet these individuals don’t always require punishment. In some cases, addiction counseling or other forms of assistance is required, but the law ties the hands of officers and judges only allowing them to respond in a certain way.
“To break their addiction,” says LEAP, “they need support with mental and physical health problems, homelessness, and unemployment, but our only tools are arrest and incarceration, which often make these problems worse.”
Within the current legal structure, both police and individuals who break the law are forced into an adversarial relationship. Prohibition drives those with abuse issues underground when they might otherwise seek help, while also requiring police officers to seek out recreational smokers who do little to no harm to the community or themselves.
5. Cops want to legalize recreational marijuana because it reduces crime.
When he announced that Department of Justice would ramp up the war on drugs in February, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.”
He was right on one account. There is definitely a lot of money to be made in the marijuana industry, but according to the facts, violent crime only follows cannabis when it’s made illegal.
According to the National Incident-Based Reporting System, overall crime in the state of Washington has been on the decline since it legalized in 2012. The report shows that between 2011 and 2014, violent crime was reduced by 10 percent. Similar results were also seen by the University of Texas at Dallas between 1990 and 2006 which found that the legalization of medical marijuana correlated with a decrease in violent crime and homicide rates.
These numbers aren’t necessarily tied to legalization, but law enforcement can rest easy knowing that a legal market won’t bring more crime with it. Even for those who serve and protect the border, the U.S. Border Patrol has said that smuggling is the lowest it’s been in ten years. Where law enforcement once collected nearly 4 million pounds of marijuana a year at the Mexican border, in the wake of legalization in states like Colorado, they’ve seen that number drop to just 1.5 million.